NB: this is part 2 of a 2 part post on visibility lessons of 2018. In part 1 I spoke about the visibility lessons learned as a writer this year.
Pursuing new opportunities
Having set up my year to write, I was approached early in 2018 to be a part of a new initiative – the creation of Australian Women’s Day (a national day to celebrate the women and girls of Australia).
This was something that immediately excited me. It’s 100% aligned with my vision for the world and with our work here at the School of Visibility, so I happily stepped toward the opportunity when it arose. It opened new doors for me, it saw me making connections I wouldn’t otherwise have pursued, I became part of a beautiful circle of women, and it coincided with a dream I’ve had for Australia and for the women of the world, for many years.
It was also an excellent visibility opportunity. And as the founder of the School of Visibility I like to walk my talk and put myself in situations where I’m stepping outside of my own visibility comfort zone, to model and encourage you to do the same.
All in all, it was a great thing to be a part of.
Here’s one thing I do regret though; not taking the time to ask myself this very important question, ‘What will you say no to in order to say yes to this?’
The consequence of not asking that question was that I wasn’t as discerning or as conscious as I might otherwise have been when it came to making decisions around the use of my time and resources.
LESSON 1: Every single time you say yes to something – particularly a visibility opportunity – be sure to ask yourself what you’ll be saying no to in order to create the time and space for the new thing.
In the end, I put much more time and money into setting up the day than I had originally anticipated. Somewhere in the range of about 50 women (and ‘a few good men’) supported the creation of the day in one way or another, and coordinating that number of people in a short period of time, making sure they were all on board with the vision, assigning roles and responsibilities, and keeping track of progress, was a full time job.
Going forward we’ll be more structured around managing people and projects and we’ll be matching initiatives with resources upfront. If the resources aren’t there, the initiative won’t go ahead until they are. No more scrambling to make it work the best we can. We’ll simply say no to far more than we’ll be say yes to and that’s the way we’ll grow.
LESSON 2: It’s far better to do one thing very well than do 10 things partially well.
In failing to consider what I’d be giving up in order to say yes to Australian Women’s Day, the School of Visibility took a backseat for quite some time and started to feel a bit neglected. I wasn’t happy about that when it was happening and I’m still disappointed that I allowed it to happen for as long as I did.
LESSON 3: Get clear up front on what really really matters to you and never lose sight of that.
Of course, Australian Women’s Day is a perfect expression of our mission at the School of Visibility to support women and girls to be seen and heard in the world. So even though at times I felt like the school wasn’t getting enough attention, in truth the school’s mission was still being fulfilled, albeit in a different way.
LESSON 4: Sometimes you have to try out different forms of expression to see which is the best fit for sharing your message and achieving your goals.
LESSON 5: There’s a difference between being out of alignment and being out of balance. When you’re out of alignment you’ve lost track of what you want to achieve. When you’re out of balance, how you’re seeking to achieve your goal is the big issue. In all likelihood, you’re giving too much attention to one aspect of your life to the detriment of others.
NB: this is not to say everything should be at some sort of perfect calculation in every moment, merely that once you know what matters to you and what the balance of those things look like in your world, you’ll know when you’re tipping the scales too far in one direction. Perhaps that’s necessary at times, for short periods, however it’s important you don’t remain out of balance for too long.
I see the School of Visibility and Australian Women’s Day as complementary initiatives. Each acts as fuel for the other, so there’s no misalignment when it comes to building the day and the school. However, I am just one person. So if I want to continue to be involved in both, I need to get smarter about how I use my time.
Confidence and growing up
One of the big opportunities that came out of Australian Women’s Day was feeling more confident to approach people I otherwise wouldn’t. When I was speaking on behalf of Australian Women’s Day I had no trouble asking for help, for support, for the interview. In running the School of Visibility, though, I’m nowhere near as confident.
What’s the difference? The School of Visibility has that personal attachment piece that we all have to our businesses when we build them from scratch. It feels like an extension of me. Asking for support or approaching people to get involved feels like asking them to back me, to be interested in me personally. I feel more vulnerable, like I’m opening myself up to greater levels of rejection, than when I ask as a representative of Australian Women’s Day.
I’m also very aware that even though I’m currently the CEO of Australian Women’s Day, I’m really just one player amongst many who’ll eventually become involved. The day is obviously not about me. It’s about an entire population of women and girls. This awareness made me fearless about asking people to get involved because as far as I’m concerned, it’s about them; it’s their day and I really believe that the women of Australia are already invested in making it a reality, whether they know it or not.
So, noticing the contrast between my inner approach to the School of Visibility and Australian Women’s Day has been incredibly instructive for me. I feel like there’s still some way to go to release more of that personal attachment to the school, but I’m on the path. I’m also aware that it’s a journey that all business owners take from personal brand and/or sole trader to CEO of an organisation, and this is a journey I’m excited to take.
LESSON 6: To grow the school I need to grow myself. I need to sit more into the CEO role and let more people in to support the School in expanding into the next phase of her development.
Connecting with the right people
I can’t tell you how much you have to get your head around to initiate a national day. One of the enormous things conceptually, is managing the sheer scale of the thing, and working out the most strategic approach to reaching 24 million people. In comparison, I’ve always thought it would be amazing if we could grow the School of Visibility to reach 1 million women. So during the year I had to up-level my vision (and level of comfort from a visibility perspective), 24 times what I was used to holding mentally and energetically.
Even though we know that eventually we want to reach 24 million people (and inspire many more than that the world over), everything I’ve ever learned or taught about growing a business and a movement recommends scaling down to begin. Finding a small group of people to connect with and then building from there.
The challenge for Australian Women’s Day was that we weren’t actually sure which small group to start with, so we tested a few different communities to see which would respond.
As it turned out, the people who stepped forward and were most enthusiastic about the day were:
(i) women of colour already working to empower women within their communities, and who told us (the founders; four white women) that they were ready for a day that would bring us all together in a respectful and inclusive way in order to give voice to all, and
(ii) predominantly white women who work in the healing professions and online in the women’s empowerment space. The priestesses, the witches, the goddesses, the circle holders, the healers, the yoga teachers, and workshop facilitators. Women who are guided by intuition and who know how to hold space for multiple voices to be heard and expressed.
Now that we know this, we’ll continue to grow those relationships in 2019 and once they feel stable, we’ll then reach out to the next group of women and continue to build our relationships in that way.
LESSON 7: When you’re trying to reach an enormous group of people, you really won’t know who’s ready to hear the call until you first put yourself out there.
Funding a movement
The other major challenge we faced this year was how to fund the whole thing. From the beginning I wanted to set up a social enterprise model, feeling as I do, that as an organisation you’re placed in a very precarious position when you rely on government funding for the bulk of your finances. As founders, we arrived at an agreement around that very quickly and spent the rest of the year trialing difficult initiatives to see what might stick.
We started with a Kickstarter campaign. I was really interested in this one because I felt like it was a great marketing opportunity, irrespective of whether we actually got the funds, plus I wanted to see how much traction there might already be in the minds of the Australian public vis-a-vis the creation of a national day for women and girls. I was very interested to learn whether people would be sufficiently enthusiastic to help us share news of the campaign and whether they’d also be willing to put their hands in their pockets to help establish the day.
Ultimately I was disappointed with the results we got there. We definitely got some wonderful supporters, but not at the level we needed to get the Kickstarter backed, and the networks and groups we connected with and who we thought might help spread the word, were often just too busy or focused on their own stuff to be particularly helpful.
In hindsight I think I was overly optimistic about people immediately coming on board with the idea and getting behind it in any way they could. Even the women who were 100% on board were often confused about why we needed money to get a national day up and running from scratch. In and of itself, that was an interesting insight for me. It made me realise just how much of what happens in society is either taken for granted or just invisible to people. They see national days like Anzac Day for example, and because it doesn’t cost them anything upfront to participate, they’re oblivious to the resources needed to celebrate the day. The reality is that millions of dollars+ go into commemorating Anzac Day. But because those things are coordinated through government, and the taxes have already been paid and allocated, people apparently don’t realise they’re actually paying through the nose for their ‘free’ national days.
Of course, with more time we could have put together a stronger Kickstarter campaign and that may have altered the outcome. We knew that going in but decided to proceed anyway because it was that kind of a year. Also, one of the purposes of running the campaign in the first place was to learn how to do it and to have a practical understanding of what works and what doesn’t, so we figured we’d just give it a shot and see what unfolded.
Ultimately there’s more communication and community building to do and in the future I’ll be following the advice I give my own students in the Age of Visibility (the School of Visibility’s program about building a movement based business) – know your message and build your community around that before asking for money.
LESSON 8: If you don’t have a community to sell your idea to, you’re making it so much harder for yourself than if you take the time to build your community first. Publicity stunts sometimes work to build awareness fast. Having connections in traditional media with large, aligned audiences is also helpful. We did employ that strategy and we got some good regional radio and print media in the lead up to the day. We didn’t pursue that in and around the Kickstarter campaign though. So that’s another thing I’ll do differently in the future. I’ll make sure my Kickstarter campaign is incredibly newsworthy in a way that appeals to mainstream media and I’ll be smarter about obtaining more print media and radio coverage.
Keep exploring options
We didn’t have a community behind us when we launched the Kickstarter campaign. We had our networks and we were working hard to grow those as fast as possible, but we didn’t have an Australian Women’s Day community who all felt connected to the concept and ready and willing to grow it.
Ultimately I acted against the advice I give my own students and launched anyway, based on a miscalculation about just how much ownership the Australian public would feel around setting up the day. (I was very surprised by the number of people who talked about it as ‘your day’ as if I was spending months of my life setting up a national day just for me and a few of my friends.) So, like all movement based businesses, there’s an important piece we’ll be working on over the next few years to encourage our community to feel ownership over the day rather than viewing it as something that’s ours and which they’re passive observers of.
After the Kickstarter campaign, we started exploring other options for bringing money in the door to pay for essential set up costs like legal and IT fees. We set up a shop selling fabulous feminist t-shirts which have been a happy source of revenue for Australian Women’s Day, and people can and have been donating funds to support us get up and running. In 2019, we’ll also be pursuing government grants, corporate sponsorships, and building out a patron model.
Personally I’ve very little interest in building Australian Women’s Day entirely off volunteer labour. Women are already asked to do far too much for free and I’ve no intention of perpetuating that model as we grow this day. So we’ll keep exploring revenue streams until we have enough data to tell us what’s working and what’s not and we’ll build from there.
Operating from a space of fearlessness
LESSON 9: An even more important visibility lesson was that when you’re operating from a space of fearlessness, a ‘failure’ like not reaching your Kickstarter goal, doesn’t actually hurt. At all.
I distinctly remember when the campaign ended, all we were focused on was what lessons we could take on board and what our next strategy would be. We focused entirely on what else we could try so we could start paying women for their time and their contributions.
I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed or doubtful about whether we should keep going with the creation of the day. These are all things I’d previously assumed I would feel if I failed publicly at anything. What I learned was that when you’re firmly anchored in a vision – something that one of my co-founders Nicole Rowan-Holt has supported us to do beautifully – then ‘failures’ are just part of the process. They’re like the road blocks you come across when you’re driving. You don’t see a road block and start to question whether you should even be in the car. You simply note that the way you thought you were going to go isn’t going to work, and you find another way to get there.
Boundaries are everything
In looking back on 2019 I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far with the set up of Australian Women’s Day. I’ve had many laughs, I’ve surprised myself, I’ve grown as a person, and I’ve enjoyed the ride immensely. I do however, feel like I gave too much of my time and attention to my side gig – Australian Women’s Day – and not enough to my main gig – The School of Visibility. There were definitely times when I felt resentful of all that we were doing to set up Australian Women’s Day. I wondered if it was worth all the effort. And I know that when I feel resentful it’s because I’ve overcommitted, I haven’t set good boundaries, and I haven’t taken care of myself first.
So 2019 is going to be my year of putting on my lifejacket first. My family, my business, and my writing are my lifejackets. They nourish me, they give me all the primary resources I need to live; love, community, purpose, inspiration, financial security, and self expression. They also give me the opportunity to be of service which brings great meaning to my life. So they’ll be my primary focus in 2019.
With the space I have left, I’ll read and do yoga and potter around in my garden. I’ll enjoy my beautiful Canberran lifestyle and I’ll contribute to the creation of Australian Women’s Day.
That feels like a full and happy life to me. And maybe, just maybe, 2019 will be end up being the lilo year of my dreams. Here’s hoping!
LESSON 10: Clarity around priorities and setting boundaries to protect those priorities is the key to this game we call life.
+ In the 2015-2016 budget year, as part of its ‘Anzac Centenary Program’, the Australian Government announced $35.5 million in funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to provide for further commemoration services. This is in addition to approximately $140 million already committed by the Government for DVA to administer the overall program. Source: Parliament of Australia